The Coming Reunification of Korea

A few years ago, a Korean friend of mine spent a college year abroad in Tanzania. In South Korea, access to information about North Korea on the Internet was blocked. In Tanzania, it wasn’t. Impressed by what she learned, she cut-and-pasted some of it into an email to her sister.

After she sent the email, she remembered that in South Korea it was illegal to cut-and-paste from a website. She called her mom to tell her sister not to read the email. The message was successfully conveyed and her sister deleted the email without reading it.

In the last year, however, the South Korean government has changed its policy and is now trying to educate citizens about life in North Korea. Information is no longer blocked. Now and then people escape. They are put on show and tell about North Korean life many times. The intention is to prepare for the coming reunification. Special committees have been formed to discuss how to solve the anticipated problems.

We are used to hearing about the advantages of dividing one country into two, but my friend had no trouble explaining why the South Korean government wanted reunification. One reason was that the war with North Korea was very expensive. Another was that families had been divided. A third was that since North Korea has nuclear weapons, reunification will mean that South Korea has them. (My friend had not read a certain newspaper article the day she said that.) This article suggests that the real reason cannot be said out loud. It is that reunification will allow South Korea to take advantage of the land and people freed by the collapse of North Korea.

“What have you learned from the reunification of Germany?” I asked.

“There will be chaos for a long time,” she said.


6 Replies to “The Coming Reunification of Korea”

  1. After she sent the email, she remembered that in South Korea it was illegal to cut-and-paste from a website.

    Are you sure about that? I’m having trouble confirming this.

    Seth: Yes, I’m sure that’s what she said.

  2. For that matter, why would the South Korean government want to censor information about North Korea? It could only make the South Korean government look good by comparison.

  3. Brandon: the SK censorship is aimed at NK propaganda. This is not as stupid as it sounds for two reasons:

    1. NK was actually wealthier and better off than SK early on, immediately after the Korean War, where they were being subsidized by China/Russia and were busy industrializing (NK has all the mineral resources and great stuff you want for industrialization which would make unification so valuable (, while SK has the agriculture; as well, Communist regimes have always been pretty OK at industrialization; see “The Myth of Asia’s Miracle” Unsurprisingly, the military dictatorship did not necessarily want NK materials around.
    2. Some South Koreans are crazily, bizarrely, delusional about NK. You have no idea how many sympathizers there already are there, and how many spies NK has had working for it willingly over the years. To us, NK seems about as appealing as working for Sauron, but to many South Koreans, it’s apparently a fine idea. To give you an idea of what I mean, one of their congressmen was convicted a month ago or so after the intelligence agencies recorded him discussing how to best overthrow the SK government and welcome in NK, where to store their gun caches which bases and power stations were best to sabotage, etc. Can you imagine an American representative being put on trial for planning landing locations for Spetsnaz? It wouldn’t’ve been plausible in the heart of the Cold War, much less now.

  4. Are we talking about NK taking over SK — because I’m finding it hard to imagine NK leadership rolling over and letting SK leadership have any new influence or power. At all. Why would the NK leadership allow any change that would lessen their own power?

    Also, there’s the American troops in the DMZ — Washington would certainly have something to say about such a reunification. And what about Beijing?

    It’s all so complicated. How will all of these participants come to terms?

  5. If SK has a declining birth rate, then an obvious way to add people is to take over NK. That is one view of what West Germany did.

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